A depressing precedent has been set recently at the University of Dallas, a precedent of apathy regarding our community and the harmful and cowardly actions of a few bad actors. This apathy threatens the core of our community’s values in a way that can only truly be corrected by restoring an active sense of fraternal justice in its place.
Nearly all are familiar with the vandalism that has occurred in Madonna Hall over the past few months, the vandalism in Theresa Hall and the vandalism that occurred at the Due Santi campus last semester. Unfortunately, the vandalism and disregard in Madonna have continued as another exit sign has been knocked down and shattered, BBQ sauce thrown all over the walls of the downstairs kitchen and the shower curtains slashed, among a few other things.
This most recent vandalism follows the residents and RAs of Madonna Hall each being fined $25 after numerous talks between Office of Student Affairs staff members and the entire Madonna community, in an attempt to deal with earlier vandalism.
Now that it has become clear that reasoned discussions, thoughtful entreaties and even group fines cannot persuade this community to put an end to the disrespect of common property, the question is justly posed, “what needs to change?”
As when any vandalism occurs in a community, most of those within the community are innocent and only a few truly bear the blame. Though group fines are occasionally a necessary and helpful measure, Catherine Schwenk was certainly correct in her article for The University News, “Vandalism: not just hurting our buildings” in saying, “There is a certain, natural injustice we recognize when we are punished for something someone else did.”
Though many who are punished for something they did not do feel as if an injustice has been perpetrated against them, as many certainly feel in Madonna right now, it is incumbent upon every member of our community to recognize that this vandalism has deeper roots than any sort of individual culpability.
When someone breaks a ping pong table, slings BBQ packets at the wall or smashes a hole in the wall and then takes no responsibility for doing so—and witnesses offer no reproach—they let their community deal with the consequences of their own actions.
I would posit that this is because of a communal apathy we have all enabled.
When such acts occur, we see them, we sigh, we shake our heads and then we move on. Almost no reaction could be worse for our community. The apathy of the many perfectly enables the malice of the few.
Right now our community is failing, and it is because too many are apathetic towards the harmful actions of others.
The remedy to this apathy is simple, and actually quite beautiful. It is to foster within yourself and your community an active, intentional sense of fraternal justice.
Fraternal justice is a type of self-enforcing justice that involves peers engaging one another in an honest, understanding and open manner whenever we recognize that we have failed to meet our community’s standards.
Adhering to fraternal justice means that we take our community and what is going on within it seriously. It means that the members of the community feel responsible for any failure of ourselves or others within our community to live up to our standards and take that sense of responsibility to correct both our personal and communal actions.
To a degree, yes, those who commit acts of vandalism are the sole guilty parties to these actions. Ultimately, however, our entire community is responsible for fostering the type of attitude that enables vandalism and the lack of accountability that has been accompanying it.
Allowing some to harm the property of all harms us all. It destroys our respect, not only for our communal property and each other, but for the values of this university so many of us profess to love.
Are we hypocrites?
I’m willing to bet that we aren’t. I’m willing to bet that we let apathy slip into our characters and that it will soon have run its course. I’m willing to bet that the members of our community will, in light of the damage this apathy has done to our community, choose to embrace the principle of subsidiarity and begin to integrate fraternal justice into their characters and their attitudes towards this community.
Hopefully, we will begin to hold each other to a higher standard, elevating us all by our attitudes and actions.